Looper edges Stephens in HD 19

El Paso County Republicans designate primary nominees
The Colorado Statesman

The showdown between two high-profile Republican lawmakers lived up to its billing as among the most hotly contested and potentially closest primary races in the state on Saturday as delegates to the El Paso County GOP assembly handed top-line designation to state Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, by a slim margin over House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument.

Looper garnered 51.7 percent of the vote to Stephens’ 48.3 percent, a difference of 10 votes out of 298 cast at the boisterous, all-day gathering at Liberty High School in Colorado Springs.


An exultant state Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, throws her hands in the air after learning she won top-line designation in a hotly contested primary against state Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, at the El Paso County Republican assembly on March 24 in Colorado Springs.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

El Paso County Republicans also set a primary for the Senate District 10 seat between state Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs, and challenger Owen Hill, who narrowly lost a bid to unseat Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, in the 2010 election when district boundaries were different. Hill won top-line designation, taking 63.81 percent of the vote to Liston’s 36.18 percent, a difference of exactly 100 votes out of 362 cast.

State Rep. Amy Stephens accepts the nomination to run in the HD 19 primary in front of a bevy of cheering supporters in the gymnasium at Liberty High School in Colorado Springs on March 24. Stephens came in a close second to state Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, and both will be on the June primary ballot for the El Paso County seat.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Delegates from House District 16 weren’t as restless, nominating state Rep. Janak Joshi, R-Colorado Springs, to a second term unopposed. Though at one time as many as three Republicans had announced bids for his seat, Joshi fended off a challenge from insurgent candidate Mike Garner, running ahead 73.6 percent to 26.4 percent.

In the primary for the open House District 21 seat, Lois Landgraff scored the top position with 66.66 percent of the vote, exactly twice the 33.33 percent won by her primary opponent Albert Sweet.

Primary rivals state Reps. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, and Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, discuss a delegate credentialing question with El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams at the House District 19 assembly on March 24 in Colorado Springs.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Candidates must clear 30 percent support at nominating assemblies to win spots on the June 26 primary ballot. Those who fall below the threshold but have more than 10 percent support have the option of petitioning onto the ballot, but this year’s petition deadline falls just two weeks after last weekend’s assemblies, and none of the vanquished candidates said they planned to try that route.

State Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, and El Paso County Commissioner Peggy Littleton exchange a hug of support at the HD 19 GOP assembly on March 24 in the Liberty High School gymnasium in Colorado Springs.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Hearing that she had edged Stephens for the coveted top spot, a triumphant Looper threw her hands in the air and for a while kept them there, lowering them only accept handshakes or embrace emotional supporters who crowded her with congratulations on the floor of the gymnasium.

“It’s not about the power in the Capitol, it’s about the people,” Looper said between hugs. “It’s about serving the people of the house district and not the special interests.”

William Henry Stayton, carrying a Marsha Looper bag, talks with John Paulton, a delegate supporting Amy Stephens, in the gymnasium at Liberty High School in Colorado Springs on the morning of March 24. Delegates were gathering for the House District 19 assembly, which nominated both candidates to the ballot and gave Looper top line by a 10-vote margin.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

With an ear-to-ear grin, Looper continued: El Paso County Republicans, she said, “resonate with the message of limited government. A Republican should walk the walk. If you’re a Republican, then you need to act like a Republican, vote like a Republican, and not expect to be entitled to anything in life, you’ve got to work hard for it.”

Stephens’ reaction was more subdued, but within minutes she had turned her focus to the June primary election.

Caroline Grantham and Kate Kile greet Republicans at a table supporting Caroline’s husband, state Sen. Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, at the El Paso County GOP assembly.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“We knew this was going to be tight, and we knew this was going to be tough, because these are your most — these are tough delegates,” she told The Colorado Statesman shortly after results were announced. “We are thrilled to be on the ballot, because I’m thrilled that we had all of these delegates show up. I think this is a handful of nothing — we’re on the ballot and off we go, it’ll be a spirited primary.”

Congressional candidate Robert Blaha talks to delegates at the El Paso County Republican assembly on March 24 at Liberty High School in Colorado Springs. Blaha is challenging three-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn in a primary, though he is petitioning onto the ballot rather than going through the caucus-assembly process to secure a spot on the primary ballot.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

The two lawmakers were thrown into competition by a Democratic-drawn reapportionment map, adopted in December, which placed more than a dozen Republicans into shared districts. Looper and Stephens, however, were the only paired incumbents who are taking it to a primary.

Neither candidate pulled any punches in a pair of spirited presentations to the over-flow crowd.

Nominating Stephens, Attorney General John Suthers said he’s known her for more than 20 years and pushed back against charges she’s insufficiently conservative.

State Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs, and supporter Karin Bugatti Fausett share a smile at Liston’s table in a crowded hallway at the El Paso County GOP assembly on March 24 at Liberty High School. Liston came in behind challenger Owen Hill for the Senate District 10 Republican primary ballot later at the assembly.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“She has been an articulate and intelligent conservative — social and fiscal conservative,” said Suthers. “That’s why she’s been chosen by her fellow House members to be the House majority leader. And that’s why I was absolutely flabbergasted when her opponent accused her of being less conservative for making sure, instead of letting the federal government impose Obamacare on us, people in Colorado had something to say about it.”

El Paso County Republican assembly delegate Patrick Carter and Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, have a laugh at the county assembly.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Suthers was referencing last year’s Senate Bill 200, a Stephens-sponsored measure establishing a state health insurance exchange — an explosive piece of legislation at the center of Looper’s attacks, which charge the bill with ushering federal health care policy into Colorado. Stephens counters that her bill, which was carried in the upper chamber by Senate President Pro Tempore Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood, allows Colorado to get out from under federal mandates and chart its own course.

District Attorney Dan May catches up with former gubernatorial candidate Steve Schuck during a break in the proceedings at the El Paso County GOP assembly on March 24.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Stephens said it was GOP infighting that paved the way for a Democratic takeover of state government in the middle of the last decade. Describing her role helping restore a Republican majority to the House, Stephens told the crowd that keeping the majority was essential.

Since regaining control of the House, she said, “We’ve killed over 70 bad Democrat bills, we have lowered our taxes, we’ve been able to stave off bad Senate bills, we have lowered our budget, and, frankly, we’ve gotten rid of a ton of government jobs and we can do more and we can do better and we’ve just scratched the surface.”

State Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, and El Paso County GOP chairman Eli Bremer talk politics at the El Paso County Republican assembly on March 24 in Colorado Springs. Gardner chaired the county party in the 1990s.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

District Attorney Dan May seconded Looper’s nomination by calling her a lawmaker who won’t back down.

“We need a fighter, a worker and a do-er,” he said, and then described the veterans court created by a Looper-sponsored bill.

“We fought the Republicans, we fought the Democrats — she fights for what’s right and gets it passed,” he said.
Looper swung hard at Stephens and the signature state law, which foes have dubbed “Amycare.”

Eugene Orner, left, makes a point in a discussion with U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, in a crowded hallway at the El Paso GOP assembly on March 24 at Liberty High School in Colorado Springs.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“While my opponent is proud of her multimillion-dollar legacy, the Obama administration and (U.S. Rep.) Diana DeGette” — a Denver Democrat — “just yesterday was praising the Colorado health exchange for leading the country in Obamacare. I am deeply saddened and disappointed,” Looper said.

Pointing out that the HD 19 seat is safe in GOP hands because of an overwhelming margin of registered Republicans, Looper said that’s why Republicans needed to choose carefully in the primary.

“We are two completely different types of Republican leaders — one who believes that the power of her position is derived from inside the Capitol, and me, who believes the power is with you,” she sang.

Lisa Cadman displays refreshments branded with the logo of her husband, Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, at the El Paso County GOP assembly on March 24 at Liberty High School.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

After the morning round of legislative nominating assemblies, delegates packed the gymnasium to hear more candidates speak and to dispense with party business.

U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, addressed the crowd twice in quick succession, first as the congressional representative from the overwhelmingly Republican 5th District, and then as a candidate for reelection to a fourth term representing the county.

A rumored walkout to protest Lamborn primary challenger Robert Blaha — who is bypassing the assembly process and seeking a spot on the ballot via petition — failed to materialize, though delegates could talk of little else in the moments before Blaha took the stage. A third Republican, insurance agent Douglas Bergeron, is also challenging Lamborn and spoke briefly.

Senate District 10 candidate Owen Hill and supporter Keith Vinzant pose for a photograph at the El Paso County GOP assembly on March 24 at Liberty High School in Colorado Springs. Hill, who came close to unseating Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, in the last election, top-lined for the June primary in the redrawn district against state Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

While a small group of delegates early on attempted to challenge the county assembly rules — perhaps hoping to recreate the turmoil experienced at the Denver GOP assembly two weeks earlier, when shouted procedural motions repeatedly held up the meeting — county chairman Eli Bremer swiftly dispensed with objections by calling for a nearly instantaneous vote, which decided by a wide margin to stick with the adopted rules and move on.

The only deviation occurred when May, who headed the rules committee, proposed allowing surrogates to speak on behalf of candidates who couldn’t make it to the assembly because of military duty, a suggestion delegates happily adopted.

That change allowed former El Paso County GOP secretary Sarah Marie Anderson — she resigned her post last fall following a fierce intra-party fracas sparked by opposition to Stephens’ Senate Bill 200 — to address the crowd in the place of her fiancé, CU regent at-large candidate Matt Arnold, who was on National Guard duty across town. His primary opponent, Brian Davidson, also spoke.

Party officials also filled out a slate of delegates — most were named at last month’s precinct caucuses — to the state and congressional district assemblies scheduled in Denver in two weeks.

Republican bigwig Karl Rove headlines the state GOP’s annual Centennial Dinner on the eve of the state assembly and convention. Rove, who told a group of Colorado Republicans a year ago that the key to the presidency could lie with Colorado’s vote, is set to speak at the 7 p.m. dinner on April 13 at the Colorado Convention Center. Tickets start at $100 and go up to a $13,425 package that includes two tickets to the dinner, a VIP reception and a seat at a closed-door roundtable on election strategy.